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Medical experts worry RSV, flu could put more weight on strained medical systems

Posted at 9:59 AM, Jul 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-31 10:59:07-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The Delta variant is at the forefront of the medical community’s mind right now, but the return of other viruses like Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and the flu could complicate things even further.

Last year, we saw record lows when it came to the flu and RSV. Medical experts say COVID precautions, like wearing masks, social distancing, and staying in, are to thank for that.

But this summer, medical providers like Darcy Jones, physician's assistant and site leader for CHI's Quick Care, are seeing an early surge in RSV cases.

“As we started to see lower COVID numbers and felt that we could take our masks off because people were getting vaccinated, we’re actually starting to see some of those things pop up," Jones said. "The cold and flu viruses that we really hadn’t been seeing were starting to show up.”

Dr. James Lawler, an infectious disease physician and the co-executive director of Global Center for Health Security at UNMC, says masks did not weaken our immune systems, but we may have missed out on some immune-boosting exposure over the past 18 months.

“It is kind of a mini vaccination," Lawler explained. "It does the same thing a vaccine does. It presents that virus to your immune system so that your immune system can create a response, and then it’s just like a booster. You periodically a reminder to your immune system.”

The CDC reports that RSV hospitalizes around 58,000 children under age 5 every year. This is a major concern for hospital systems trying to keep up with the new wave of Delta variant patients.

“You may not have COVID-19; you may have RSV, but you’re still looking for the same bed, the same nurse, and the same respiratory therapist potentially that’s overwhelmed taking care of way too many COVID patients," Lawler said.

And while record low flu numbers were something worth celebrating last year, it created a lack of data for developing the flu shot for this year.

“We’ll have to just get through the season the best we can, and then use that information for the following year," said Jones.

Both Jones and Lawler say we should be doing what has already proven to work: wear a mask, social distance, and get tested when we’re feeling sick regardless of vaccination status.

Both medical experts are also encouraging patients to get the COVID-19 vaccine and to get the flu shot when it is available.

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